In a world where everything seems important, it can be hard to prioritise tasks. How can we choose which one to do first, when they're all essential?
The truth is, there is a lot of work that doesn't need to be completed right away. Learning how to prioritise means that you'll get more out of your day, and feel less stressed throughout the day. It's one of the sure-fire ways to ensure productivity, improving all aspects of your work.
We know it's much easier said than done. That's why we've created a little guide on how to prioritise tasks, and only do the work that really matters.
Lists, lists, lists
Lists are so important when it comes to organisation. You need to capture everything on a big list.
Your initial list can be on anything - a piece of paper, app, or document. Simply list everything that you need to do and complete. Don't worry too much about the order just yet, just make sure that everything is on there.
Perhaps you want to separate your lists into categories. For instance, work, admin, and personal.
Separate important and urgent
Now that you have your list, the next step is to consider the difference between important and urgent.
Urgent is work that absolutely needs to be completed. If you don't, there will be negative consequences that could derail your work-life balance. Think, a missed deadline.
Urgent tasks can also be tasks like replying to emails or making phone calls. Don't underestimate them just because they're seemingly small.
Urgent tasks can be defined as ones that will contribute to your long-term goals, missions, and values.
Look at the list of tasks and consider which of the following categories they belong to:
Urgent: Do these tasks as soon as possible
Urgent, but not necessary: Delegate these tasks to somebody else, or complete them yourself promptly.
Important, but not urgent: Schedule them accordingly
Neither urgent or essential: Try to find ways to drop these tasks from your schedule.
What is the value?
Take a look at the work you've labelled "important." Everything seems important, but we never really consider how important it really is.
That's why it's so important to identify which tasks carry the highest value. This will help you decide which tasks are a priority.
“The value of each task could depend on how many people will be impacted, how much time it will free in your day, or the profits gained from completing. It's also necessary for some tasks to be completed first, for other tasks to be completed. For example, you may need to complete a phone call with a client before starting their work.” — Gabi Suarez, a writer and editor at Grab My Essay.
What is the estimated effort?
Chances are, you'll have some tasks that seem to tie in the priority ranking. You can decide which one to start first by checking their estimates.
Which tasks will take the most effort to complete?
You'll have a clear idea about this when you look at your tasks. Replying to emails and answering support tickets will take less effort than configuring a new database.
Eat the frog
That brings us nicely onto our next point. Eating the frog.
Experts say that getting the mammoth, daunting task out of the way at the start of the day will give you the energy, inspiration, and momentum that you need throughout.
Mark Twain wrote: "If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time." Essentially, you need to tackle those horrible tasks straight away.
Of course, if you have a strong feeling that you should tackle one of the smaller tasks first, trust your gut.
Don't be afraid to cut tasks out
It's okay to never do a task, or cut something out. If it has been lingering at the bottom of your to-do list for too long, it's probably a good indication that it should be eliminated.
Cutting menial, useless tasks from your day will help your schedule look freer, too. This can make your day seem easier to tackle. It can be quite refreshing to cut out these tasks.
Workdays change, new information will come in, and your task list may not be relevant 100% of the time.
You need to be flexible and have this in mind from the very beginning. Prioritising and planning is really just guessing, and everything can change.
There will be times when you prioritise a task, and the expectations change. Yes, it can be disappointing, but you can't let it ruin your productivity.
This is known as the "sunk cost facility" - humans are incredibly susceptible to it. It's a psychological effect where we feel compelled to complete something, purely because we have put time and effort into it.
“Remember, any time spent completing work towards a wrong priority is just time wasted. Sometimes it's better to be flexible and switch our efforts.” — Marie Fincher, a content editor and writer at Studicus and Best Essay Education.
Ranking your work
Don't worry, if you've been following the steps and you still have a list of urgent and vital tasks that need to be done, you just need to dig a little deeper to find out the real importance.
A consultant named Ivy Lee developed one of the best ways to rank your tasks.
At the end of every day, you write down the six most important tasks that you need to accomplish tomorrow. Prioritise those six tasks in order of their importance.
When you arrive the next day, concentrate only on the first task and only move onto the second when you've fully finished. Approach the rest of the list in the same manner.
Repeat this every single day. Keeping the tasks to six is a great way to stay motivated.
Even when you prioritise your tasks in the best way possible, things may not go as you hoped.
It's not always possible to have productive days all the time. Sometimes tasks take longer than we expected, interruptions happen, and change may occur. You can't beat yourself up about this.
While it's great to know how to prioritise your work, you should be realistic and not lose hope in the system.
Keeping this in mind will help you stay productive and motivated. Also, don't forget the importance of a well-deserved break.
Don't use prioritising your tasks as a way to procrastinate. Once you have your well-organised list, you should get started straight away.
Stay focused on the tasks that you've prioritised, and dive right in. There's no doubt that your day will feel more productive, and you'll complete more jobs.
Remember, each day is different. What works one day might not work the next day. Don't be afraid to mix up your lists and tasks.
We hope this simple guide helps with your prioritization method. While it might be hard to categorize each task in the beginning, the more you use this, the easier it will become.
Regardless, tackling one or two tasks every day is a great feat. Being flexible and realistic will ensure that you end the day in a positive mindset, feeling good about any progress that you make.
Bridgette Hernandez is a Master in Anthropology who is interested in writing and is planning to publish her own book in the near future. She works with professional writing companies such as Bid 4 Writing and SupremeDissertations as a writer. The texts she writes are always informative, based on qualitative research but nevertheless pleasant to read. Brid occasionally writes blogs for FlyWriting.